Voting-machine critic will be the judge today

No security woes expected, but training not reassuring

Election 2004

March 02, 2004|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

If your polling place happens to be Trinity Assembly of God in Lutherville, you might run into a bespectacled election judge today who respects your right to cast a ballot, but not the electronic machines you'll use to do it.

The judge? Aviel D. Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University associate professor and one of the country's most outspoken critics of voting-machine security.

When the polls open at 7 a.m., he will be there to assist Super Tuesday voters with the new Diebold AccuVote-TS touch-screen machines, helping them navigate the ATM-like devices that his research shows are vulnerable to subversions by hackers ranging from casting multiple ballots to vote-switching.

Maryland spent $55 million on the 16,000 machines that will be used today in every state jurisdiction except Baltimore City, which is scheduled to switch to Diebolds in 2006. State election officials have said they are pleased with the new machines, which debuted in four counties two years ago.

In January, a consultant hired by the state said the results tallied by the devices can be trusted - with some added security measures. A bill before a General Assembly committee would require the addition of an auditable paper trail for the electronic voting machines.

Rubin, 36, said he volunteered to serve as an election judge because he cares about democracy and has been accused by critics of not having experience with voting procedures.

"I thought I would be able to learn more about the process and have a better way to evaluate the security of the system," said Rubin, technical director of Hopkins' Information Security Institute. He helped start a national discussion on voting machine security last summer when a study he co-wrote found several security flaws in the Diebold system.

The computer science professor said his two-hour training to be a judge didn't bolster his Election Day confidence. For example, he said, his fellow election judges, whom he described as being mostly in the "grandparent category," didn't seem to fully grasp the technology, and the text on the confirmation screen for visually impaired voters was smaller than it should have been.

Despite his reservations, Rubin said he believes the primary election isn't exciting enough to provide much incentive for a hacker to tamper with the results. "We might have a flawless Super Tuesday," he said.

"But just because you go through a bad neighborhood and don't get mugged doesn't mean that it was safe to do and that you won't be mugged the next time," Rubin said. "I think in the general election these machines will be a big juicy target."

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